// Tom Hibbard



“XTANT4:” Visual Writing and Dreams




The visual writing or visual poetry in “XTANT4,” published in late autumn 2004 by anabasis.xtant press, might be well considered using the psychological terminology that relates to dreams.

Freud notes that many dreams take the appearance of language texts. Though he is not generally referring to dreams with overt language signs, Freud's student, Carl Jung, especially in “Symbols of Transformation,” writes extensively about language in relation to dreams, about the “language of dreams,” what this language expresses and in what manner. Erich Fromm's book Forgotten Language is also concerned with dreams and “symbolic language.”

In chapter seven of Writing and Difference, titled “Freud and the Scene of Writing,” Jacques Derrida, starting with Freud's book Project (1895) and his essay, “Note on the Mystic Writing Pad” (1925), brings together some basic ideas about dream expression in a way that is interwoven with linguistic ideas. In closely allying the “language of dreams” and linguistic terminology, Derrida opens a door for a revealing examination of visual poetry using the methods that Freud, Jung and others use to examine dreams. Derrida seems even to argue that language as it appears visually, written language, has a special place and is given a special place by Freud in dreams.

“From a system of traces functioning according to a model which Freud would have preferred to be a natural one, and from which writing is entirely absent, we proceed toward a configuration of traces which can no longer be represented except by the structure and functioning of writing.”

Once a close connection between dreams and visual language (Derrida includes speech) is established, the general aspects of dreams and approaches to uncovering and assessing dream content can be applied to visual writing.

Freud and Jung both devote a great deal of their psychological study to the meaning of dreams. Freud's idea of dreams is most often associated with the concepts of individual wish-fulfillment and repression. Jung's idea of dreams is most often attached to his notion of collective consciousness, both unconscious and conscious. (It is said that Jung conceived the idea of collective consciousness from a dream that he had of an ancient, dark catacomb located beneath a house).

Freud believed dreams were compressed revelations of hidden trauma. Jung dissented from this idea, believing that the archetypal application of dreams was a specific type of expression. However, Jung quotes Freud himself as describing myths as “wish phantasies of whole nations--the age-long dreams of young humanity.”

In the context of discussion of dreams and dream symbols, Jung writes, “In language...we have the tangible--the actual and historical--instrument of the development and conservation of psychic meaning.”

“...language, in its origins and essence, is simply a system of signs or symbols that denote real occurrences of their echo in the human soul” (my italics).

Derrida adds to this, in his volatile and compact style, a list of ways that language expression is similar to dream expression, with the intent, I think, of preserving for language some of the multiplicity, mystery, hallucinogenic wonder of dreams. It is in this chapter on Freud that Derrida begins to refer to “difference” as it appears in the title of his book. “Difference is the articulation of space and time.” The sentence previous to this is “...the pure phonic chain, to the extent that it implies differences, is itself not a pure continuum or flow of time.” Derrida attempts to describe the atomic structure of writing and language. Dreams are the articulation of difference. Derrida connects dreams to language in a way that shows that language too is the articulation of difference. The word “differentiation” seems applicable. Language is the articulation of difference of the Other.

Early in this chapter, Derrida writes, “With dreams displaced into a forest of script...the interpretation of dreams...on the first approach will be an act of reading and decoding.”

He proceeds to speak of such things, echoing Jung, as “status-as-meaningful,” “representing,” “displacement of meanings,” “discourse which might be coded without ceasing to be diaphanous” and “blank neutrality of discourse.”

Eventually Derrida concludes indirectly that “we are wrong...to speak of translation or transcription in describing the transition of unconscious thoughts through the preconscious toward consciousness.” “Words are often treated as things in dreams and thus undergo the same operations as thing presentations.” In visual writing and visual poetry (vispo) this would also refer to letters, glyphs, titles, texts, patterns, forms, handwriting, typographies and so on. The word “bird” in a visual artwork would probably not be appropriately “translated” one-to-one as the word “bird.”

Derrida quotes Freud, “...the interpretation of a dream is completely analogous to the decipherment of an ancient pictographic script such as Egyptian hieroglyphics.” Also: “The ambiguity of various elements of dreams finds a parallel in these ancient systems of writing.”

However, Derrida still refers to the understanding and search for the meaning of dream content as “reading.”

[Both the consideration of the meaning of dreams and the use of the word “interpretation,” from my knowledge, are likely to run into strong objection from fundamentalist, literalist Christian doctrine. Old Testament law forbids interpreting dreams. And New Testament teaching forbids “interpreting” scripture, though this, in my opinion, has a specific meaning aside from common attempts to explain teachings and the imprecision of meaning that the four gospel versions themselves embody.]

In my view, despite what I have stated above, the idea that visual writing is similar to dreams does indicate to some extent that writing, free expression, and “modern literature” in the U.S. today is repressed. I take as evidence of this, besides visual writing, the amount of fantasy in popular fiction, especially such as Philip Roth’s Plot Against America, in which the author fabricates American history.

Perhaps, too, visual writing is an expression, following Freud, of sexual or erotic impulses and an expression of memories of childhood.

I also believe that visual writing, the visual writing in “XTANT4,” depicts art and literature in transition; it is a foreboding of new works and new styles of work. Jung writes, “Psyche is transition....On the one hand, the psyche gives a picture of the remnants and traces of the entire past, and, on the other, but expressed in the same picture, [it gives] the outlines of the future, inasmuch as the psyche creates its own future.”

However, in saying, with Derrida, that visual writing is like dreams in that it cannot be strictly decoded, we assert that visual writing is writing in and of itself. As Derrida points out, “there is no text present elsewhere.” All of this response is prompted by visual writing alone. And, as several of the works in “XTANT4” point out, all writing is to some extent visual writing. Though I feel that contemporary forms of expression are moving in a direction toward acknowledging and including consciousness, the divine privilege of intent, the tenuous convention of existence; visual writing is correct in its message that meaning is never anything other than inferred and latent.


(for more writing on visual poetry by Tom Hibbard
go to http://www.milkmag.org/HIBBARD6.html )



Tom Hibbard has written many reviews of contemporary writers and artists, some of which currently can be viewed online at Big Bridge, Sidereality, Poetic Inhalation, Milk, Jacket and elsewhere. A selection of his reviews was recently featured at Crag Hill's blog, Scorecard. He has also done some translating mostly from French Surrealism. Along with the current collection of poetry, Nonexistence , chapters from another recent collection, Gessom , can be tracked down online. Some earlier poetry collections are Delancey Street, Human Powers, Nocturnes, Songs of Divine Love, Enchanted Streets and Assembly.

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